CC Law and her team have a new and terrifying assignment. Even the resources of Backstage may not be enough to avert the coming disaster. Can a secret society thousands of years old fail in their duty to cure the hidden cancer at the core of three different countries? Not if CC can help it!
Lyle had been quite impressed with the gadget at first. Some clever engineer had managed to create a cart that could convert from traditional vertical lift with a wedge on the bottom into a classic horizontal cart. The thing even folded flat when you weren't using it. However, now that Lyle had been forced to drag it over the river and through the woods he was less enamored with the device.
CC called a stop and removed one of the live traps from the cart. She set it on the ground and carefully baited the trap with some cheese. The last trap had been baited with peanut butter, and the one before that with sandwich meat.
"You know," Lyle began,"when I dreamed of getting myself a steady girl I imagined Saturday afternoons involving beer gardens and music festivals. I did not plan on spending my Saturdays scrambling through the woods dragging a little red wagon full of no-kill traps," groused Lyle.
CC straightened up from the mesh cage and gave him a look. Lyle wasn't sure if it was a slightly annoyed look, or a you're spending the night on the couch look. "Aren't you the least bit interested in what kinds of critters run around here at night?" she asked.
"I'm sure it's just squirrels and mice and I'm not looking forward to a Sunday morning of releasing angry rodents," he replied.
The look intensified into a glare as CC put her hands on her hips. "At night the Garden has two moons and you think all the fauna in here stays the same?"
"But the walls stay in place," protested Lyle. "We have pictures to prove it.
"The wall is 201 miles long Lyle. We only photographed one piece of it," CC pointed out.
"Besides, birds and bats could fly over the walls. Or things similar to birds and bats."
"You think you're going to catch alien creatures in these traps?" he asked incredulously.
"Could be. Or maybe we'll find fairies in them come morning" said CC without any hint she was kidding.
Lyle was too flabbergasted to respond right away. While he tried to formulate a reasonable argument CC pulled out her map and marked the location of the trap along with the type of bait used. Then she took off deeper into the woods without another word.
"There's no such thing as fairies," said Lyle to CC's back.
"And I used to think there was no such thing as a secret society with pocket dimensions and teleportation portals," CC called over her shoulder. Seeing the lead CC was gaining on him Lyle grabbed at the cart's handle and dragged it after him on over the uneven terrain. He was really beginning to hate tree roots. Vines and moss were also rising on his shit list.
"Honestly CC if there were fairies in the Public Garden someone would have noticed it during the thousands of years Stagers have lived here," reasoned Lyle.
CC shot back, "Not if they're nocturnal."
Lyle wished she hadn't said that. They had probably another hour or so of daylight left, but they were also quite a distance from the Garden's entrance. He didn't want to be caught too far away from escape when the horrible nerve jangling buzzing started up at dusk. As determined as CC was to ferret out the secrets of the Garden, the Garden was equally determined to protect its mysteries. He eyed the pile of remaining traps with dread, then picked up his pace.
Lyle dragged himself along in CC's wake. The game had gone late last night, but CC had insisted they needed to get into the Garden at dawn to gather up the traps before anyone else found them.
Checking the traps was turning out to be an even worse job that putting them out. CC took meticulous notes at each trap, agonizing over every detail. If the trap was empty, she tried a different bait. If the trap was full, Lyle was pressed into service getting the perfectly ordinary woodland creatures out. So far, he'd been scratched by a squirrel, nearly bitten by a fox, and pooped on by a little brown bird that should have been too small to eject that much guano.
Lyle had gamely played along with all of CC's other experiments, but he was fast running out of patience. As an Acceptor, he simply didn't care if the Public Garden was a pocket dimension, another planet, or Narnia's back lot. Sundays should be for sleeping late and canoodling, not playing amateur pest control.
CC's mood wasn't much better. She'd had high hopes for this experiment, and the occasional traps that had been triggered but were empty were starting to get on her nerves. She could buy a clever vole or two, but there had been four so far sealed up with no bait and no prisoner.
Listening to Lyle mutter under his breath wasn't helping either. She was seriously pissed off when she approached trap nineteen and squatted down for a look. Make that five empty sprung traps. CC opened the door and shook the cage to check for any remaining bait. Something glittery inside caught her eye, but she couldn't get it to slide to the front of the trap.
"Give me a hand disassembling this one," she said to Lyle. "There's something in it."
"Your turn to get bitten," said Lyle, at his most sullen.
"Fine!" snapped CC, as she dug in her pack for a screwdriver.
Despite his response, Lyle knelt to take a look himself. "What is that?"
"If I knew, I would just reach in and fish it out," CC replied testily. "But we're not looking for the known, now are we?"
Sixteen screws later, CC gingerly lifted the top off the cage. There stuck to the bottom of the trap were two wings. In size and shape, they resembled lunar moth wings. On the other hand, they were magenta fading to deep violet at the tips. The wings lay there disembodied—alone and glittering. It was maddening.
About The Author
Joan Wendland is a retired engineer turned SF/F author. She lives near Washington D.C. with her husband and a disturbing lack of cats. Joan is also the owner/chief game designer of Blood & Cardstock Games (www.blood-and-cardstock.com). You can follow her on twitter @BandCGames and download all her fantabulous books from: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B078C4Z4ZH